Meteora Greece Adventure Bucket List

18 Europe Hidden Gems for 2024

After a year of traveling to 30 countries, these are our favorite European hidden gems. Some we knew about and others were happy accidents, but these moments turned out to be our favorite experiences.

While the famous cities of Europe will always be a big draw, finding these hidden gems in Europe reframed how we travel. If you want to escape the tourist track and have a more unusual experience, add some of these spots to your itinerary.

Some of these Europe hidden gems make lovely day trips, while others deserve a week-long vacation. Without further ado, here are our favorite secret Europe spots to add to your next trip.

Europe Hidden Gems

European Hidden Gems For Day Trips

European Hidden Gems Karlovy Vary

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

Does anyone else love the movie “Last Holiday” with Queen Latifah? Well, it turns out that the Grandhotel Pupp is a real hotel in Karlovy Vary, located in the western Czech Republic.

This spa town, lined with grand, pastel-colored buildings showcasing a mix of architectural styles, is one of the cutest European hidden gems. 

The most fascinating feature of Karlovy Vary is the 13 thermal springs housed in beautiful colonnades, where you fill up a souvenir porcelain cup to drink the water that is believed to possess therapeutic properties.

Other fun things to do include a range of spa treatments, delicious Czech cuisine, the Funicular to Diana Observation Tower, and the annual Karlovy Vary International Film Festival during the summer.

We stayed 2 nights so we could enjoy the area at a leisurely pace. It’s a 1.5-hour drive from Prague, or you can take a Karlovy Vary Day Tour. 

Meteora Greece Adventure Bucket List

Meteora, Greece

Meteora, Greece, is a breathtaking destination known for its towering rock formations and ancient monasteries. It’s more of a secret place in Europe because it’s somewhat far from all the major tourist spots.

We visited on a Balkan road trip with our own car, but you can also take a Meteora day trip from Athens or Thessaloniki.

The primary attraction of Meteora is its monasteries perched on top of towering rock pillars that look like an unbelievable movie set. Six of the original 24 monasteries are still active and open to visitors. 

While there is transportation to the monasteries, Meteora is a major draw for hikers and rock climbers. Numerous trails weave through the dramatic landscape, leading to the monasteries.

Popular hiking routes include the trails from Kastraki village to the monasteries and the path from Kalambaka to the Holy Trinity Monastery. For rock climbers, Meteora’s sandstone pillars provide routes for various skill levels.

Setenil de las Bodegas Day Trip From Malaga Spain
Setenil de las Bodegas

Pueblos Blancos, Spain

Spain is renowned for its picturesque “pueblos blancos” or white villages, but they remain a hidden gem overshadowed by cities like Barcelona and Madrid.

These unique towns are among the best places to visit in Spain, making excellent day trips from SevilleMalaga, Cordoba, and other cities in Andalusia.

Each of these villages is known for its whitewashed buildings, but each has unique features that make it special.

  • Ronda: One of the most famous and largest white villages, Ronda is known for its striking Puente Nuevo bridge spanning a deep gorge. The old town is filled with shops, restaurants, historic buildings, and one of the oldest bullrings in Spain.
  • Frigiliana: Often considered one of the prettiest white villages, Frigiliana boasts well-preserved Moorish architecture, steep cobbled streets, and whitewashed houses with bright blue doors, making it a top day trip from Malaga.
  • Setenil de las Bodegas: This unique village features houses, restaurants, and shops built into and under massive rock overhangs. It is a must-see on an Andalusia road trip.
Obernai Christmas Markets in Alsace

Alsace, France

Alsace, France is filled with storybook villages along the border of France and Germany. Visit the Alsace Christmas markets during the holidays or the wine region, charming towns, delicious food, and half-timbered architecture year long.

We visited Obernai, Ribeauvillé, Keyserberg, and the bigger cities of Strasbourg and Colmar. Other popular villages include Riquewihr, Eguisheim, and Turckheim.

Venture along the Alsace Wine Route and stop in quaint hamlets to sample Alsatian wines like Riesling. An Alsace wine tour with an expert guide and stops in three local wineries is great for wine enthusiasts who want to learn more.

Visit the historic city of Strasbourg. See the stunning Strasbourg Cathedral, explore the delightful streets and canals of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town, La Petite France, and enjoy a boat tour along the Ill River.

Have someone else do the driving and take a full-day Alsace tour from Strasbourg to Colmar, some small medieval villages, and the 12th-century Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg.

Kotor Montenegro Hidden Gems in Europe

Kotor, Montenegro

Montenegro is well worth a few days when you are visiting Croatia. Driving from Dubrovnik, you should stop in Herceg Novi, then Perast, before continuing around the Bay of Kotor to the old-world city of Kotor.

We stayed a few days, but you can take a Boat Tour from Dubrovnik to Kotor & Perast or a day trip by bus to have your transportation and border crossing handled.

Hike to the Kotor Fortress. The climb is about 1,300 steps, but you can keep turning around to check out the spectacular views and catch your breath if necessary.

Explore the Old Town of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its well-preserved architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, and significant landmarks. Take in the vibrant atmosphere at numerous cafes, shops, and restaurants.

Take a boat tour of the Bay of Kotor, set amidst towering mountains with adorable villages, and visit Our Lady of the Rocks, a small island with a church and museum. 

Monsanto Portugal Hidden European Gems

Monsanto, Portugal

Monsanto was on our Portugal bucket list before moving to Portugal but it took some effort due to its remote location near the Spanish border. You need a car for this one.

The big draw to Monsanto are the colossal rocks that the village has been built around. Monsanto definitely lived up to the hype because it’s so unusual, the village is cute, and there are fun hiking trails.

Wander through the narrow, winding streets to see the traditional granite houses built around massive boulders. You’ll also find shops, restaurants, hiking trails, and great views!

Hike up to Monsanto Castle. Built in the 12th century, it provides a glimpse into the region’s history and strategic significance. If you have kids with you, they’ll love running around here.

Attend the Festa das Cruzes in early May to enjoy a procession, music, dancing, local cuisine, and the throwing of clay pots with flowers from the castle walls, symbolizing the end of the agricultural cycle and the hope for a good harvest.

Hidden Gems in Europe Bulle Switzerland

Bulle, Switzerland

We discovered Bulle while looking for a place to stay overnight between Bern and Geneva. I booked a conveniently located hotel and stumbled upon this delightful town, next to Gruyères. Both towns offer a variety of fun activities.

Take a hike or bike ride through the rolling hills, and lush forests of Gruyère Pays-d’Enhaut Regional Nature Park. There are trails to hidden waterfalls and panoramic viewpoints.

Just a short drive from Bulle lies Gruyères Castle, a medieval fortress perched atop a hill overlooking the charming town of Gruyères.

Visiting Maison Cailler, Switzerland’s oldest chocolate factory is a must. Learn about the chocolate-making process, from bean to bar, and sample a variety of delicious Swiss chocolates.

Both towns have darling downtown areas with shops and restaurants. Make sure to order a traditional Swiss fondue made with creamy Gruyère cheese, accompanied by crusty bread, potatoes, and a glass of local wine.

Sassi di Matera Italy

Matera, Italy

Matera, a European hidden gem located in Puglia, Italy, is renowned for being the oldest city in Italy, and one of the oldest in the entire world. Matera was more remarkable than we expected and absolutely deserves a spot on your bucket list.

While exploring these ancient structures, which have been continuously inhabited since prehistoric times, it’s hard not to be moved by having a glimpse into early human civilization as far back as the 10th century BC!

Visitors can wander up and down the hills of this UNESCO World Heritage city. Visit the fascinating Rock Church, San Pietro Caveoso, and visit one of the cave houses that showcases how people lived.

We stayed overnight in one of the Matera Cave Hotels, which have been renovated into luxurious suites and are such a unique travel experience. Staying in a Trulli in Alberobello nearby is another cool thing to do.

If you like hiking, you can head down into Gravina Canyon and get unbeatable views of the Sassi, particularly at sunset. Matera is one of the most unique places to visit in Italy.

First Month Living in Portugal

Ericeira

I can’t believe how many people visit Portugal and miss out on Ericeira. This incredibly charming town is just 45 minutes from Lisbon. We loved Ericeira so much that we decided to move there, and many others share the same sentiment.

Ericeira is a quaint Portuguese village with whitewashed buildings, cobblestone streets, fantastic restaurants, cafes, and cute shops. It’s a haven for surfers worldwide, drawn to its world-class surf spots like Ribeira d’Ilhas, Coxos, and Pedra Branca.

The waves are smaller during the summer and there are plenty of surf schools catering to beginners if you want to give surfing a go. You will also find lots of pristine sand for sunbathing and cute beach cafes.

Other enjoyable activities include beach volleyball, hiking, biking, yoga, and wellness retreats. The summer months are vibrant with cultural events, and the nightlife is lively with beachfront bars and small clubs.

Visit the nearby Mafra National Palace, an impressive Baroque palace and convent that many visitors to Portugal overlook.

If you want to avoid the tourist crowds in Sintra or seek a more authentic beach town experience than Cascais, Ericeira is one of the cutest towns in Portugal, boasting heavenly beaches and excellent surf.

Europe Hidden Gems San Marino

San Marino

One of the best places to visit in Italy is San Marino. Bordered on all sides by Italy, it is one of the oldest sovereign states in the world with a history dating back over 1,700 years.

Our decision to visit was driven by the desire to add another country to our travels. What we discovered was a fascinating, small nation that blends modern life with a very interesting history, making it one of the hidden European gems.

The next-level views from the country’s hilltop vantage points on Mount Titano at 2,425 feet, Guaita Tower and Cesta Tower, are so unique. You can tour the fortresses and walk along the fortified walls.

Then stroll through the streets of the Old Town, where you can visit the Basilica di San Marino and the Public Palace. Don’t miss the intriguing Museum of Curiosities, which houses an eclectic collection of oddities. 

It’s a perfect day trip, and if you can time your visit during one of their festivals (there seem to be quite a few – we managed to get one of them), you can see the pride they have in this country.


Hidden Gems in Europe for a Full Week Long Trip

Best Hikes in Madeira Pico Arieiro

Madeira, Portugal

Madeira is one of the most incredible destinations we’ve ever visited! The photos we saw of the famous levada walks along the island’s irrigation channels didn’t do justice to their breathtaking beauty in person.

Add all the fun activities you can do around the island, and it’s an amazing trip, especially if you time it with one of their major events like New Year’s Eve, Carnival, or the Flower Festival.

It’s a short flight from Lisbon and other European cities. There’s also a flight directly from New York. We went for 5 days and felt like it wasn’t enough, so plan for at least a week if you want to include hiking.

Explore Madeira’s best hikes and levada walks through lush forests, past cascading waterfalls, and along dramatic cliffs, offering breathtaking views of the island’s natural beauty. Start with sunrise at Pico Arieiro at 5,965 feet.

Stay in Funchal, the colorful, colonial capital city. Stroll the waterfront promenade, see the Sé Cathedral, shop, enjoy delicious restaurants like Akua, and take a cable car ride to the Botanical Gardens for sweeping views of the city.

Take multiple scenic drives around Madeira for stunning coastal and mountainous landscapes. You’ll find delightful villages, terraced vineyards, gorgeous beaches, natural ocean pools, and panoramic viewpoints.

Europe Hidden Gems Sibiu Romania

Transylvania, Romania

Transylvania, Romania, is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe. It had been on my travel list for a while and completely exceeded my expectations.

I recommend visiting between late June and October, as some areas in the Carpathian Mountains are closed for half the year due to snow. Our trip in April was cut short because of the snowy driving conditions.

Explore Bran Castle often referred to as “Dracula’s Castle.” It is one of Transylvania’s most famous landmarks, with other impressive castles like Corvin Castle, Peleș Castle, and Râșnov Fortress nearby.

Visit the Cities of Sibiu, Sighişoara, and Brașov to see the well-preserved medieval streets and architecture. One of the interesting features is the eyed windows at the top of the buildings, making you feel like you are being watched.

Hike in the Carpathian Mountains for breathtaking landscapes in Piatra Craiului National Park or Bucegi Natural Park.

Drive the Transfagarasan Highway for its dramatic switchbacks, tunnels, and viaducts that wind through the beautiful Carpathian Mountains, earning it the title of “the best road in the world” by Top Gear.

Gdansk Poland European Hidden Gems

Gdansk, Poland

We visited Gdansk because stopping there allowed us an inexpensive flight from the U.K. to Norway. But it turned out to be a turn of fortune because it is definitely one of the hidden European gems.

A stroll down the bustling Long Market in the heart of the Old Town is one of the prettiest streets in Europe, where pastel-colored merchant houses with intricate roof detail and vibrant market stalls evoke the city’s Hanseatic past.

The majestic Golden Gate, with its intricate façade and imposing towers, stands as a testament to Gdańsk’s medieval grandeur, while the iconic Neptune Fountain, symbolizes maritime prowess.

Amidst the city’s architectural wonders, tantalizing aromas beckon from restaurants, where we savored hearty pierogi, followed by a soft serve ice cream. This is not the place for a diet!

Beyond the city limits, a day trip to Malbork Castle, the largest brick castle in the world. Or visit the seaside resort town of Sopot on the coast of the Baltic Sea.

After Scandinavia, we went back to visit Warsaw and Krakow, with the incredible Wieliczka Salt Mine, a European bucket list adventure for sure! A one-week itinerary in Poland is filled with rich history and exciting things to do.

Soca River Slovenia Bucket List Adventures

Bovec, Slovenia

Bovec is on our world adventure bucket list for good reason. There’s a great vibe and everyone there is enjoying the outdoors.

Within 5 minutes of arriving, we booked a white-water rafting trip on the Soča River. The rapids are gentler than New England or other places in the US, with the added advantage of that incredible turquoise water.

Bovec is located in the Julian Alps. Adventure seekers can try zip-lining across the Soča Valley, paragliding over the majestic peaks, or exploring the area’s extensive network of biking trails.

Hiking in nearby Triglav National Park is a top activity. The trail to the Kluže Fortress is a good day hike, or go for the overnight hike to the summit of Mount Triglav (9,396 feet), the highest peak in Slovenia.

After visiting Slovenia on three separate trips, we highly recommend a one-week itinerary. You will love this country.

Spend a few days in Bled, a fairytale lake town with an island church, explore the wondrous Vintgar Gorge, visit the lively capital city of Ljubljana, and relax in Piran on the Adriatic Sea.

3 Days in Malta Itinerary

Valletta, Malta

Malta was one of the countries on my 50-country challenge. I expected an island vibe and had no idea Valletta was such a chic, cosmopolitan city and Malta had so many historic sites.

Explore Valletta’s sites, including St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the Grand Master’s Palace, and the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Then, wander through the charming streets of the Old Town, where you’ll find quaint cafes and picturesque squares.

One of the first things you’ll notice in Malta is the extraordinary color of the ocean. Take a boat trip to the Blue Lagoon and the neighboring islands of Gozo and Comino, or relax on sandy shores and enjoy snorkeling, diving, and kayaking.

Finally, visit the ancient walled city of Mdina, a medieval town with impressive architecture and megalithic temples, which date back over 5,000 years and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

A 3-Day Malta itinerary is enough to get an overview, but you can easily stay longer to enjoy Malta at a leisurely pace.

Best Places to Visit in May Camargue France

Camargue, France

Photos of the famous white Camargue horses drew us to visit this area, but the Camargue region of France offers a diverse range of activities that you can explore for days.

We stayed in the picturesque seaside town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer with a delightful market area where you can buy specialty products like sel de mer, relax on sandy beaches, and visit Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer, a Catholic pilgrimage site.

Take a 4×4 Jeep Safari in the Camargue Natural Regional Park to see wetlands, salt marshes, and lagoons filled with flamingos, herons, the white horses, and equally famous black bulls.

Nearby, the historic town of Arles, famous for being the place where Van Gogh painted Starry Night Over the Rhône, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its Roman monuments, including the Roman amphitheater.

It’s fun to wander through the streets of colorful buildings, stopping at a cafe and visiting the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, a museum featuring his art and other great artists of the time.

Rila Monastery Bulgaria Hidden Gems

Bulgaria

One of the things we liked most about Bulgaria was the variety of interesting things to do around the country. You could easily spend a few weeks exploring the hidden gems in this country. 

Sofia, the capital city, has a captivating blend of architectural styles, and one of the jewels is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, with a stunning gold-domed roof and intricate mosaics. It’s one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world.

Vitosha Mountain sits proudly above Sofia. With just a short drive you can enjoy hiking and mountain biking along scenic trails. We went in March, and it was a snowy wonderland with panoramic views of Sofia.

Other places to visit include Rila Monastery, one of Bulgaria’s most iconic landmarks, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, founded in the 10th century. Its magnificence included impressive murals and tile work.

The Belogradchik Rocks, a series of surreal sandstone cliffs, are reminiscent of spots like Cappadocia and Bryce Canyon. Explore the Belogradchik Fortress with origins dating back to Roman times.

Finally, on our way to Romania, we stopped in Veliko Tarnovo to see Tsarevets Fortress, the medieval stronghold and former capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Wandering through the ruins and restored Royal Palace is well worth the trip.

Europe Hidden Gems Pontresina Switzerland

Pontresina, Switzerland

Pontresina, an adventure lover’s paradise in the Engadin valley of Switzerland, is one of the hidden European gems because its famous, glitzy neighbor, St. Moritz, gets most of the notoriety.

We discovered Pontresina while searching for scenic hikes, and the trail to Morteratsch Glacier was perfect. It’s 4 miles out and back to the glacier, and we saw the famous Bernina Express on our hike.

The Bernina Express is a UNESCO World Heritage train journey that connects Pontresina to Tirano in Italy, traversing the breathtaking Bernina Pass and crossing the iconic Landwasser Viaduct.

You can also take the Glacier Express that connects Pontresina to Zermatt, offering panoramic vistas of mountains, glaciers, pristine lakes, and tranquil Swiss villages.

Other fun things to do in Pontresina during summer include paragliding, equestrian sports, river rafting, golf, and yoga. In winter, skiing, snowboarding, ice climbing, glacier caves, and horse carriage rides are just some of the fun activities.

After a day of recreation, relax in one of Pontresina’s wellness spas, enjoying thermal baths and soothing treatments. Finally, savor local cuisine at a traditional Swiss restaurant, where you can indulge in specialties like fondue and Engadin nut cake.


Final Thoughts About Hidden European Gems

Europe hidden gems offer a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, often away from the bustling crowds of popular tourist spots.

From the fairy-tale charm of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic to the picturesque streets of Colmar in France, these lesser-known destinations provide travelers with authentic and memorable experiences.

When we were flash packing around Europe, finding these hidden gems in Europe were our most treasured moments. Let us know if there are any great ones that we haven’t included.

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Hidden Gems in Europe

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    kara
    June 16, 2024 at 2:30 pm

    One of your best!!!

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